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10 NBA Teams Getting Hot at the Right Time

Joseph AndersonCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2016

10 NBA Teams Getting Hot at the Right Time

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Believe it or not, we are more than halfway done with the NBA season, which means it's time to assess which teams are putting themselves in ideal positions for the stretch run.

    Some teams on this list are perennial contenders who were expected to do well, while others have been surprisingly successful to this point in the season.

    These teams vary in terms of their style and pace, as well as their roster makeup, but they all share a similar goal: the NBA Finals.

    This list is in no particular order and just focuses on which teams are playing well right now and what we can expect from them in the postseason.

    There's still a long way to go this year, but let's take a look at where these 10 teams stand in the playoff picture.

Golden State Warriors

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    I know—these guys have been hot all season long. The Golden State Warriors have answered any questions as to whether they could maintain their unbelievable start to the season with a 15-2 record so far in 2016.

    Golden State sits at 45-4 overall and has a legitimate chance to dethrone the 1995-96 Bulls for the best regular-season record (72-10) of all time.

    The defending NBA champs rank first in the league in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency according to’s Hollinger stats. They also feature the league's top scorer, Steph Curry (29.8 points per game), who is working on a second consecutive MVP campaign.

    Saturday’s showdown with Oklahoma City will be an interesting challenge for the Warriors, as the two teams have not yet played this season.

    The Warriors have passed every test to this point (blowout wins over Cleveland and San Antonio), and not much is standing in their way of a repeat trip to the NBA Finals.

    If Golden State is able to stay healthy through the rest of the regular season, it will likely be viewed as a heavy favorite for the NBA title, and rightfully so.

Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    For most teams, a coaching change in the middle of the season means instability and chaos among the players. Not for a LeBron James-led team, though.

    Since David Blatt's firing, the Cavaliers are 5-2 behind a new fast-paced offense implemented by new head coach Tyronn Lue.

    LeBron's scoring average of 24.9 points per game is among the best in the NBA, yet he isn't asked to be the main option on some nights.

    Kyrie Irving's insane athleticism and Kevin Love's physicality give the Cavaliers two more dominant scorers who are capable of taking over games.

    Cleveland features the fourth-most efficient offense in the NBA and the eighth-most efficient defense.

    There's no doubt the team has enough star power to win the Eastern Conference and be a serious threat for the NBA title, but the Cavaliers still must improve upon a relatively weak bench in order to add more balance.

    If the Cavaliers are able to put it all together by the time the playoffs come around, they can contend with anyone.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Eventually, we'll stop being surprised at how good the Spurs are each season.

    San Antonio features the league's top defensive efficiency ranking at 94.7, four points better than the second-best Boston Celtics (98.7).

    Kawhi Leonard has established himself as a legitimate star in the NBA, averaging 19.9 points per game while locking down opponents on the other end of the floor.

    The tandem of LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan in the low post has been nearly impossible for opponents to stop and opens up the floor for San Antonio's guards.

    The 41-8 Spurs have gone 16-2 over their past 18 games and haven't showed any signs of slowing down. Over that 18-game stretch, only three opponents broke the 100-point barrier, and only eight teams have done it for the entire season.

    San Antonio has solidified itself as a definite NBA Finals contender, and it has the defensive prowess to make a championship run this season.

Boston Celtics

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Coming into the season, most basketball fans would not have believed the Boston Celtics were a top-four team in the Eastern Conference, yet that's exactly where Brad Stevens' team finds itself halfway through the season.

    So how did the Celtics get there?

    Boston features the second-most efficient defense in the league and has smothered opponents in a manner similar to the Spurs this season.

    After a pedestrian 22-21 start to the year, the Celtics have won seven of eight games and now hold a slim lead for the fourth playoff spot in the East.

    Boston doesn't overwhelm anyone with star players and elite scorers, but it does have first-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas and his 21.4 points per game to thank for carrying the offense this season.

    Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley are each scoring more than 14 points per game as well, which helps balance out Boston's offense.

    While their star power might not blow many teams away, the Celtics' hard-nosed style and defensive intensity will make them a difficult opponent in the playoffs.

Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Did you forget about these guys? It’s OK, many basketball fans have.

    Regardless of the lack of headlines Oklahoma City has been receiving, the Thunder are sitting comfortably in third place in the Western Conference at 38-13, only four games behind San Antonio.

    Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are each having MVP-caliber seasons, as the two have carried OKC through the first half of the season.

    Durant is averaging 27.4 points per night, while the human triple-double known as Westbrook is putting up a ridiculous stat line of 24 points, 7.6 rebounds and 10 assists this season.

    Billy Donovan's squad has played well of late, winning 12 of its past 13 games behind a blistering offense that ranks second in offensive efficiency.

    Defense is one of the only concerns with Oklahoma City, as it has fallen to 11th in defensive efficiency after allowing at least 106 points in six of its last seven contests.

    There's no doubting the offensive firepower in OKC, and the fact that the Thunder bring out two of the NBA's best players each night means they will be a dangerous opponent for anyone in the postseason.

Portland Trail Blazers

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Not many teams could rely on two young guards to carry an offense on a nightly basis, but Portland has two gunners who have been able to do just that.

    Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have continued to drive defenders crazy with their quickness and sharpshooting, as the tandem has averaged 44.9 points per game.

    Unfortunately, that's about the extent of Portland's offense.

    The Blazers' next leading scorer is guard Allen Crabbe, who averages just over 11 points per night, so depth is certainly an issue.

    Regardless, Portland has won eight of its last 10 games, which puts the Trail Blazers into the playoffs as the eighth seed as things currently stand. At 24-26, they have the eighth-best offensive efficiency in the NBA but must improve upon a defense that allows 102.1 points per game if they are going to hold onto the last spot out West.

    Portland needs to improve upon its depth in order to have any postseason success, so look for the Blazers to be active at the trade deadline.

Toronto Raptors

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Speaking of young and talented guards, the Toronto Raptors feature two of the league's best on a nightly basis.

    Led by the talented young tandem of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have some of the most explosive talent in the NBA. DeRozan and Lowry each average more than 20 points per game, and the offseason acquisition of DeMarre Carroll has helped stabilize a position of need from a season ago.

    Consistency from Jonas Valanciunas and Luis Scola in the low post has balanced out the offense and made the Raptors a difficult team to stop from scoring at will.

    Toronto ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and that balance has propelled the team to a 33-16 record and the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Raptors have won 12 of their last 13 games and look poised to challenge Cleveland in the East. Dethroning LeBron and the Cavs will not be easy, but there's plenty of talent on this Raptors roster to make it happen.

Memphis Grizzlies

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    Associated Press

    After struggling through the first half of the year, Memphis has won eight of its last nine games and vaulted into the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture at 29-20.

    The struggles of forward Zach Randolph were a major storyline for most of the season, but the 14-year veteran still has shown an ability to dominate down low with his seven 20-point games this year.

    As always, the Grizzlies are sound in the middle of the floor with Marc Gasol, who has averaged 16.7 points per game while also being a solid defender.

    Jeff Green has been one of the pleasant surprises, as the veteran forward has surpassed the 20-point mark in four consecutive games after doing it only four times in the team's first 45 games. Green's scoring has coincided with the Grizzlies' improved play, so expect him to continue to be a key piece of the offense going forward.

    While Memphis has been known as a strong defensive team in the past, the Grizzlies rank just 16th in defensive efficiency. Since they don't feature many dominant scorers, their defense will have to improve if they're going to have any success in the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Sure, the Charlotte Hornets are on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now, but they have enough young talent to contend for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference this year.

    As many young squads tend to be, the Hornets are one of the streakiest teams in the NBA.

    Charlotte has won six of its last 10 games, but before that it went through a 1-8 stretch that took the team temporarily out of the playoff picture.

    Kemba Walker's 20 points per game have been a consistent option for the Hornets throughout the year, while contributions from Nicolas Batum and Al Jefferson keep the offense rolling on most nights.

    As a middle-of-the-pack offensive and defensive team in terms of efficiency, not much really stands out when looking at the 24-25 Hornets.

    However, they have an exciting young team with loads of talent, so Charlotte is capable of putting together a winning streak and earning a playoff spot.

Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    The Utah Jazz are another young team on this list that has had some consistency issues.

    There is plenty of potential in Salt Lake City, but turning that talent into winning has taken some time for Quin Snyder.

    Utah has won four in a row and five of its last six, though, thanks in large part to the 120 points Gordon Hayward has put up over that stretch.

    The Jazz rank 10th in offensive efficiency, mostly because the balance they have on that side of the ball. Five players average in double figures for Utah, and two of those players come off the bench.

    Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood each score more than 14 points per game as starters, while Alec Burks and Trey Burke average more than 12 points each off the bench.

    Utah sits in a virtual tie with Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot out West but seems to have more balance than the Blazers. The future is bright for the Jazz, and keeping their young players around could turn this team into a yearly playoff contender in the Western Conference.

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